Landmark conservation buy gives to indigenous owners
In a landmark, first-of-its kind, acquisition for conservationists a global conservation group has led the purchase of Fish River Station, a former cattle station in the Northern Territory, and is to hand it back to indigenous traditional owners.
The land was acquired by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and its partners at a cost of $13 million, and marks the first involvement of conservation non-government organisations in purchases that are to be handed back to traditional owners.
Funding from the TNC and its partners, the Australian Government, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and Pew Environment Group, led to the purchase of the 180,000 hectare land, comprised of savannah woodlands, rainforest and food plains for the Daly River.
“The acquisition is a remarkable step forward for conservation in Australia”, stated Dr Michael Looker, Director of TNC in Australia.
“We’re conserving crucial biodiversity, providing sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous Australians, handing land back to the Traditional Owners and catalysing further conservation”, he added.
The Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke shared Dr Looker’s outlook.
“This is a great alliance to build long-term conservation in some of our most remote country”, stated Mr Burke.
“It’s an exciting new model for Australia’s National Reserve System, our most secure way of protecting native plants and animals for future generations”.
“It’s also a significant contribution to our conservation corridor right through central Australia which will give native species room to adapt to a changing climate, fire and drought.”
“By working with partners, we’ve achieved a big win for nature conservation and a new model for reconnecting Indigenous people with their land”, concluded the Minister.
The Nature Conservancy said the ILC will initially hold Fish River Station on behalf of local communities who owned the land before Western settlement.
The ILC plans to then transfer the land back to an Indigenous organisation representative of traditional owners.
Training of indigenous rangers in land management and habitat restoration is currently underway, and the ILC and TNC have concluded interim management guidelines for the property, as well as finalised the purchases of equipment needed for conservation.
Chairperson of the ILC, Shirley McPherson, said that indigenous rangers will be able to generate income through programs such as fencing, cultural site protection, weed eradication, plant and animal surveys, feral animal eradication, soil conservation, regeneration of threatened flora and fauna species and a host of other work to protect this ecosystem ark for future generations of all Australians.
“Traditional owners will be able to renew and strengthen their connection to country and Fish River can again become a teaching place for passing on cultural knowledge about land and lore to their children”, Ms McPherson said.
Also to benefit from this land acquisition are the Northern Masked Owl, the Northern Quoll, the Freshwater Sawfish and the Gouldian Fish as they, along with approximately 400 species of plants, are now protected.
The cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes that will flow from the purchase of Fish River Station will not only benefit local traditional owners; they will also be important for all of Australia, said The Nature Conservancy.